Tuesday, September 30, 2014


I spotted this abandoned bridge in the mountains of north Georgia. There's a story in there somewhere.

I'm not sure they need the "Bridge Closed" sign. But it is Georgia.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Myth of the Benign Fascist

Everyone seems to love them. You know, those bad-ass pulp fiction characters who let their male emotions do their thinking and their giant muscles do the talking. I've taken to calling them 'the benign Fascists'.

Of course, there really is no such thing. But that's part of the allure right? Reading fantasies that there might actually be such. We call them things like Batman, or The Equalizer, or Jack Reacher. It's a nice thought, I suppose. I mean, them taking out the human garbage and all.

But it just ain't so. It finally became such a reach for me to believe in that kind of fantasy that I put down the novels that are basically a gun-humper's wet dream. I got sick of those violent concoctions about men who are somewhere between the outlaw and the good guy.

My latest excursion into such territory was THE WEIGHT by Andrew Vachss. When I was younger I was a huge Vachss fan. I read several of his Burke novels, the title character kind of like Doc Savage if all Doc Savage did was go around slaughtering child molesters. Those were fun for a while, but then they got old and I stopped reading them well before I finished the whole series.

When I saw THE WEIGHT I figured I'd see what Vachss was up to in more recent times. This book came out around 2011 or so. At least the version I have is dated 2011. And he mentions such topical things as what a douche Eliot Spitzer is. Yeah, it's that kind of novel.

The book focuses on a professional criminal named "Sugar". He's a thief who is usually part of a team who go after high-dollar targets and then lay low for a long time. Sugar is not naturally violent (despite being well over six feet tall and composed of 240 pounds or so of solid muscle) and he cares a lot about the welfare of children and women and the mentally disadvantaged. And probably puppies, but we never get to hear about that.

The plot kicks into high gear after a big heist when Sugar is falsely accused of raping a woman and he can't voice his alibi because that would be admitting that he was in on the theft of five million dollars worth of jewelery. So he ends up having to take the blame for the rape so that he won't have to give up his fellow thieves. This is "the weight" of the title. He has to serve five years in the pen.

And there he has to do business with all sorts, including the Aryan Brotherhood, because Sugar is a white dude and he has to buy his shank from the AB. And the way the Brotherhood is described is that some of them aren't really bad sorts. They're just misunderstood fellows who happen to be covered in Hitler and Nazi tattoos. You dig that, right?

Most of the first half of the book deals with Sugar talking about the life of a career criminal. It's pretty good stuff and holds your interest. Because whatever Vachss may be feeding us about his benign Fascist, he's a very skillful writer. When the serious plot does finally kick in, it's convoluted and detailed and so crazy that mostly it makes no sense whatsoever. And that's generally okay in crime books, because many of the classic crime novels involve criminal plots that make absolutely no sense at all. But here it doesn't work. For me...it utterly failed.

But the book held my attention. I have to give it that. I think in the final analysis I just can't believe in the theory of the benign Fascist. Because those guys whose careers are built around breaking the law and stealing and such...they're almost all stupid assholes. And they have little to no morals when it comes to the welfare and safety of children, and women, and the mentally disadvantaged. To them, kids and women...those are targets.

THE WEIGHT by Andrew Vachss.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Self Promotion!

Keeping up the promotion for THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH.

The re-launch of THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH. An expansion of my comic story from Stephen Bissette's TABOO comics anthology, it's a completely different take on the zombie mythos.

We've all read stories and novels about people having to run a gauntlet of undead zombies. But what's it like for a lone member of the undead trying to make his way past thousands of paranoid, violent crowds of the living?

Find out how and why in THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH, by James Robert Smith.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014


The Severed Press re-launch of my novel, THE NEW ECOLOGY OF DEATH. What I like to call "the anti-zombie zombie novel".

During the zombie apocalypse civilization was on the brink of collapse. But it pulled through. Alex Wenzler, however, did not. He was a victim and became one of the walking dead. Now, things have changed. Two years on, society is getting back to normal. The zombies are on the run. Life is close to being the way it was. But Alex Wenzler suddenly wakes up, roused from the waking coma of the zombie un-life. He is aware of what he was and what he is and what he is…becoming. Now all he wants is to find his son, Mark. He will have to run a gauntlet of violence and almost sure destruction to see his boy. Can he do it? And if he can, what will he do once his child is within reach? There are two sides to every story. Even the undead have something to say.


Sunday, September 21, 2014

Other Waterfalls.

One day it was rainy and I had been planning on hiking to the summit of Blood Mountain. But I just didn't feel like doing that in the rain. It's not that I have a problem with hiking in wet weather, but the main reason I wanted to go to the summit of Blood Mountain was for the views. The peak is the highest on the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail and has a lot of exposed granite on the summit which is prime for great views of the north Georgia mountains. And I had not been up there since I was nineteen years old.

Instead of doing that and not being able to take panoramas of the high country, I got Carole to go along with me on some short, easy hikes to see some waterfalls. These were really easy hikes that anyone who is not disabled can do. Hikes of a mile or less and not much in the way of climbing or descending. What I like to call "sissy-approved" hikes.

The first one was to see two waterfalls at DeSoto Falls Scenic Area. It's actually just below Blood Mountain and features a campground that Carole and I wanted to scope out for future possibilities as a camping destination. Unfortunately for us, the water flow was really low for these waterfalls. I had seen them when I was a kid when the flows were good and they are normally spectacular. However, the day we were there the sights were less than impressive.

Next we drove over to Vogel State Park, one of Georgia's first state park facilities. There's also a waterfall there at the far end of Lake Trahlyta that always looks good because it's fed by the spillway from the lake's dam. It was up to its usual thing of being gorgeous, so that one was well worth the trip to see.

At the trail head to see the falls.

This is normally a gorgeous waterfall. Just not that day.

At the falls, to give you perspective on its size.

My ignorance of most things floral sometimes bugs me. I don't know what this is, but it covered a lot of the forest floor.

The trail is pretty nice.

The second falls. Again, the experience was not what it normally is because of low water flow.

The spillway at the far end of Lake Trahlyta.

I think that's Blood Mountain looming over the lake, but I'm not positive.

And the waterfall below the spillway. Gorgeous and worth seeing.

The falls at Lake Trahlyta.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Morganton Point Campground

I like to post some details about the campgrounds where we stay and I've been remiss in mentioning the one we used on our north Georgia trip. We booked five days at Morganton Point Campground. It's located on the shores of Lake Blue Ridge just outside the town of Blue Ridge, Georgia. Some of the campsites are actually on the lake, but we chose a site upslope in the forest.

It's a really quiet campground. We didn't see any wildlife to speak of (except for some little critters), but the forest is nice. They have a range of campsites to choose from. Some that are designed for tent camping, and others for serious RV camping. We got a campsite with water and electric hookups. They even have one site that has that, plus sewer hookup. If we'd known that the campground doesn't provide a dump station we'd have booked that site (which goes for $30 a night). However, we did not know until we arrived that Morganton Point doesn't have a dump station. This is a major problem if you go and don't know this fact. (We had to drive down to another National Forest campground and use their dump station when we left.)

The online information states that the campground has showers, but this is not true. What it does have is a separate beach bathhouse that provides OUTDOOR cold-water showers for bathers wishing to wash off after leaving the lake. So, again, don't come to the campground expecting to be able to take hot showers. Unless your travel trailer has an onboard shower (ours does), then you're not going to be able to take a shower.

Also (and I hate to sound negative), but the bathroom has only one toilet. One. If the campground is crowded you can imagine the lines at the stall door. We try to minimize the use of our bathroom at campgrounds unless we have sewer hookup. So having a less than adequate bathroom facility can prove problematic. (And, yes, there is more than one bathroom facility there.)

That said, we really did enjoy this campground. There were two campground hosts and they were very friendly and helpful. And despite the lack of some facilities, we would go back there for a stay. I do recommend the campground.

One other thing I think I do need to mention. Access to the campground is through a kind of abandoned business district in the unincorporated place called Morganton. Pretty much all of the businesses failed and the buildings are vacant. Navigating through these tightly packed buildings to the main road can be downright dangerous. So be careful when entering or exiting the access road.

This was our campsite. Plenty of room. Also, lots of room between sites, which we find important to us. Plenty of healthy vegetation blocking one site from another.

Carole decorated our door with a festive Autumn wreath.

These little guys were everywhere. They must have just hatched out and emerged from the forest. We had to be careful not to squish them underfoot. They were VERY tiny. I got down on the gravel with my camera and took this portrait. (This guy could have fit on my thumbnail with room to spare.)

Carole is the best campground cook of all time. The first night out our meal was chicken fajitas.

Carole even toasted the soft shells over the fire!

This was also Carole's idea. She saw this light at a hardware store and realized that she could hang it under our canopy. So now, as long as we have electric hookups, we don't need to set up our Coleman lantern.

Breakfast bright and early in the a.m.! (Don't let Carole know I'm posting this photo. She was tired and still sleepy.) Carole bought that little pot of marigolds for the table.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Another Train Ride!

Carole had researched another rail trip that runs from Blue Ridge Georgia to McKaysville Georgia/Copper Hill Tennessee. It's a short trip, as such go; only about one hour each way with a couple of hours layover at the northern destination before returning to Blue Ridge. We both enjoy these outings which give you a good idea of what it was like to ride the rails back in the day.

The town of Blue Ridge has changed much since I was a kid. These days it's an exceptional tourist destination and the town has blossomed in many ways. It seems to be doing well with lots of cool stores and no empty buildings with plenty of customers. I can't say the same for McKaysville which did have some cool stores, but not so many as Blue Ridge.

When I was a teenager, McKaysville/Copper Hill was an ecological wasteland. Union Carbide, easily one of the most vile corporate entities on the planet, operated mines there at the Georgia/Tennessee border that raped the land and polluted the water and air. They actually vented acid directly into the atmosphere in those days and one could stand on the mountaintops in the Cohuttas and look north to see a vast, dead, brown scab-like terrain where the company operated, wrecking Mother Earth.

These days, at least vegetation has returned to the area, although I can't say with any certainty if it's healthy or if the water table is still polluted. But at least it doesn't look like Satan's asshole any more.

We enjoyed the trip and I can recommend it. There are things to see and do at either end of the ride and the trip itself is fun with some interesting scenery bordering the river.

The town of Blue Ridge, Georgia. We had a good time here.

More shops.

This is the car we rode in.

The conductor. This guy really played the part.

Our car. Very comfortable. Nice and air conditioned.

The conductor stopped and let us take this photo. What a great guy.

McKaysville, Georgia. Just down the street is the Tennessee border where you can walk into the village of Copper Hill.

One of the engines. There was actually an engine at either end of the train. One pulled us to McKaysville, then the other one pulled us to Blue Ridge.

Carole, just as we were leaving to return to Blue Ridge.

North Georgia was once a major part of the Cherokee Nation. Almost everything they built has been removed or buried by the Europeans who took it all from them. However, there are five of these fish traps on the river between the Tennessee border and Blue Ridge. The natives constructed these V-shaped funnels in the river. They would chase fish from the deeper, wider section toward the tip of the "V" where they would catch them in the shallows in baskets.

I took this video to show an old iron bridge the train takes on its journey. Toward the end of the video you can hear this horrid little kid screaming. He had the worst parents. Ever. Total freaking assholes. The kid would start screaming and the parents reactions were to give him exactly what he wanted to make him stop. This only made him start screaming again a few seconds later when he decided he wanted something else. This went on and on. When they saw how much it was irritating everyone else, they moved to a separate compartment where no one could hear the little bastard. A message to his parents: SCREW YOU, ASSHOLES!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Lake Conasauga

On the day we planned to go kayaking on the Coosa River, the weather did not cooperate. Weird as it sounds, kayaking in the rain is not fun. So we ended up not doing that.

Instead, we turned the truck toward Ellijay in Gilmer County. I lived in Gilmer County all of my high school years. It was a weird and wonderful place. It is also the setting and inspiration for James Dickey's novel DELIVERANCE. For good reason. In those days it was full of inbred, violence prone, ignorant, hateful monsters. Much like the USA, only cubed. But I've covered that angle here before, and I may do so again in the future, but not now.

It had been more than forty years since I had seen Ellijay. It is indeed a changed place. Today, it's a huge tourist destination for people who hail from points south in Georgia. Most of those drive up from Atlanta, I suspect. The old stores that were there when I was a teenager are gone, replaced by antique malls and art shops and ice cream joints and restaurants and boutiques of various types. And the people are not the ones I recall. The inbred monsters have been replaced by entrepreneurs and their non-inbred families. Hispanic people live there now, and even black people! The old Klan creeps who dominated the Ellijay of my youth must have shriveled in horror (the county was 100% white when we lived there).

But we were not there to see the shops and tourist boutiques. We were just passing through, on our way to visit Lake Conasauga high in the Cohutta Mountains north of Ellijay. We made it through the busy downtown crawling with curious Atlantans up for the weekend and headed north to the Forest Service roads that would take us to the high country and to Lake Conasauga.

Again, it had been forty or more years since I had seen the Cohutta Mountains. The last time I'd visited I wasn't yet twenty years old and so homesick for the north Georgia mountains that every curve in the gravel roads that took me to the ridge tops brought tears to my eyes. My heart was aching and I hardly knew what to do with myself. Then, I had only a couple of days to revisit the beauty of the mountains of my childhood and then I knew that points south and flat were calling to me of responsibility. It was sweet and it was horrible.

The drive to Conasauga was fourteen miles of rough, rocky Forest Service roadways. We climbed from roughly 1,000 feet above sea level to 3,300 feet above sea level, passing through forests of hardwoods and pines and dying hemlocks. At about 2,500 feet the mountains met the clouds and we were socked in by flowing mists and the temperature plunged from the low 80s in town to the 50s on the ridges. Carole had not brought a jacket and I had to give her mine.

Our secondary plan had been to unload the kayaks at the lake and paddle around there and enjoy the peace. But it was too cold and wet up there and you literally could not see more than ten feet in any direction, so we decided just to sit on the shore of the misty lake and have lunch and listen to the silence that was multiplied by the cloaking mists.

Spider web capturing the droplets of mist and rain.

Bear country. There are lots more bears there now than when I was a kid.

One of the nice picnic shelters that they've constructed at the lake.

Everything muffled by the pea-soup mists.

There was no view of the lake, at all.

Lake Conasauga is the highest lake in Georgia. About 3,300 feet above sea level, as I recall.

Part of the trail around the lake.


I had to use a towel around my shoulders to keep warm. It was really chilly. We had a good time eating lunch by the shore of the lake.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Helton Creek Falls: Hemlock holocaust.

Somehow I had managed to never see Helton Creek Falls during the years when I lived in the north Georgia mountains. It's a spectacular waterfall and I'm glad I finally got to see it. But I had mixed emotions viewing this very beautiful spot.

As I climbed down into the gorge the first thing that hit me was that I was walking in bright, direct sunlight when I should have been walking under a forest canopy. Looking all around--in every direction--I realized that this very steep and rugged gorge had housed a luxurious and probably old growth forest of hemlock trees.

And, of course, if you've been following this blog for very long you will know what has become of our native hemlock trees. This particular location was especially distressing. There was not a living hemlock there of any consequential size. I could see large hemlocks lying dead just about everywhere I cast my gaze. All victims of the invasive pest, the Hemlock wooly adelgid.

Since this spot is a very popular location for tourists to visit, the Forest Service has come in and felled most of the dead hemlocks. On the far side of the creek and well away from the falls there are some very big old hemlocks still standing, but very dead and all the more depressing for their size and stature. If only the people who control the purse strings had decided that saving places like this was more important than the things upon which they squander our national treasure.

The sign at the parking lot.

Some of the grand old giants are still standing. Dead, of course, but standing.

My first view of the falls as I hiked down the trail.

The Forest Service has had to go in and clear the dead trees nearest the trails to keep them from falling on visitors.
When I first got to the falls, I thought that this was the whole lot. Until I noticed the trail leading up and followed it.

The lower section of Helton Creek Falls.

There's some very nice infrastructure at the falls.

This falls has a great plunge pool for swimming!

The upper section of the falls.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Georgia Mountains!

Well...Carole and I are headed off to the north Georgia mountains for a few days. We haven't been there since 2008. We're going to try to visit a spot in the county where I went to high school--the Cohutta Wilderness Area where I first went backpacking as a kid.

Will return in less than a week with new experiences and batches of photographs. I hope to see some black bears while we're there.

High peaks near the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail (near Springer Mountain).
Part of the upper section of Amicalola Falls during low water flow. Taken the last time we went to the mountains in Georgia.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Casita Clean!

Carole and I cleaned the Casita today to get it ready for our next trip. Alas, the repairs that it needs have still not been done. The place where we have gotten all of our servicing done for nine years could not see their way clear to do the work for us, so we picked up the trailer and brought it home. We've been doing business with them since 2005 and they kept putting us off all summer, refusing to let us bring our trailer in. When they finally agreed to take it, they shunted our trailer aside in favor of--I suppose--more profitable work. Our bill was only going to be $1500 or so. I guess that's not much money to them. (In addition, both my father-in-law and a brother-in-law bought travel trailers from this place...you'd think customer loyalty would mean something to them.)

So we'll find a new RV service center when we return from the next trip. We also have a trip planned for October. We'd like to have a new awning by then, plus the repair work we needed. We can still make use of the trailer without a new awing, and as long as we have full hookups the repairs aren't needed. And the campground where we're going this week has full hookups.

We're looking forward to this trip. We'll actually be in the north Georgia mountains where I spent my high school years and where I learned how to backpack. We're planning a kayak trip on a mountain river, a day trip on a train, and I want to hike a few mountains that I haven't climbed since I was a teenager.

A nice sunny, hot day for hard work! (Don't make fun of my faux-Japanese sandals! Hai!) The Casita was SUPER dirty! I had to scrub it for hours to get the layers of wax and dirt off from top to bottom.

All clean!

If you think this looks like home brew...you're right. Going along on the trip with us.

We keep the dinette down as a bed all of the time. I can't recall the last time we've actually had the dining table set up.

This is where we eat and relax. I've read many a book in that chair.

We're all but ready to go. (We leave on Tuesday night.) Carole is taking the frier with us. We generally do all of our cooking outside and Carole likes to use the frier a lot. We actually bought it on our very first trip with the Casita--just outside of Blackrock Mountain State Park in Georgia.